Characterization of microbial mixtures by mass spectrometry

Todd Sandrin, Plamen A. Demirev

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


MS applications in microbiology have increased significantly in the past 10 years, due in part to the proliferation of regulator-approved commercial MALDI MS platforms for rapid identification of clinical infections. In parallel, with the expansion of MS technologies in the “omics” fields, novel MS-based research efforts to characterize organismal as well as environmental microbiomes have emerged. Successful characterization of microorganisms found in complex mixtures of other organisms remains a major challenge for researchers and clinicians alike. Here, we review recent MS advances toward addressing that challenge. These include sample preparation methods and protocols, and established, for example, MALDI, as well as newer, for example, atmospheric pressure ionization (API) techniques. MALDI mass spectra of intact cells contain predominantly information on the highly expressed house-keeping proteins used as biomarkers. The API methods are applicable for small biomolecule analysis, for example, phospholipids and lipopeptides, and facilitate species differentiation. MS hardware and techniques, for example, tandem MS, including diverse ion source/mass analyzer combinations are discussed. Relevant examples for microbial mixture characterization utilizing these combinations are provided. Chemometrics and bioinformatics methods and algorithms, including those applied to large scale MS data acquisition in microbial metaproteomics and MS imaging of biofilms, are highlighted. Select MS applications for polymicrobial culture analysis in environmental and clinical microbiology are reviewed as well.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)321-349
Number of pages29
JournalMass Spectrometry Reviews
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 1 2018


  • API
  • DESI
  • bacteremia
  • biofilm
  • bioinformatics
  • biomarker
  • electrophoresis
  • homology
  • imaging
  • metaproteomics
  • microbiome
  • phyloproteomics
  • polymicrobial
  • proteogenomics
  • spectral library
  • tandem MS

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Analytical Chemistry
  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Spectroscopy


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